Thursday, October 4, 2012

Movie Appraisal: A Tale of Two Sisters (장화, 홍련) (2003)

I like how there are times when the poster tells you just about everything you need to know about a movie. Well, this poster certainly does, and that's kind of fantastic.

A Tale of Two Sisters is a Korean psychological horror film (eventually remade into an American horror film called The Uninvited) which tells a modern version of an old folktale called "Janghwa Hongryeon jeon." Honestly though, this movie is a pretty loose adaptation of that story and knowing it won't actually spoil the ending to this movie.

Anyway, as a psychological horror film, I really have to judge this film on everything it offers. I thought it had some great elements in it. The acting was superb. I mean that. Watching the main two females act against one another is a joy to behold even if it is in a language I don't understand. You can feel the tension, the hatred, and the struggle between the two women. You can also tell that all is not right.

The mood of the film struggles between serious, somber, and incredibly realistic at times. You never really know what kind of story the movie is trying to tell, be it a ghost story, a psychological story, or a story of an evil stepmother. That makes it very difficult to interpret this film and even more difficult to look at it with a discerning eye. The movie does offer some pretty heavy psychological horror elements to it and does deserve the title, for whatever that's worth. It is a very good psychological horror movie and is often incredibly effective even if it is somewhat predictable at times.

The scares are not amazing, and I say that after watching it alone in the middle of the night as I usually do with these kinds of films. It had a few decent scares, but nothing that I really fell in love with and wanted to scream bloody murder about. It was a tense film more than anything else, one that feels as if something is very wrong, but you just can't place your finger on it.

I believe that this film has at least... oh, let's say three twists to it, and they vary in how well they're all pulled off. I easily called two of them fairly early on from the way that the film was shot and handled more than anything else. It seemed pretty obvious what was going on if you're paying any kind of attention. I also had no idea what the movie was about or what to expect going into it, so being able to find a predictability to the horror and the story was somewhat disappointing, but I do see a lot of these movies and there are only so many twists a psychological horror movie can pull.

The movie is pretty effective overall though and does happen to have a better story and much better acting than most other horror movies out there. The cinematography is quite well done too, often focusing on nearly silent scenes and characters, making that tension really fly off the charts at times. There are even a few very interesting one scene or even one shot scares that really add to the undeniable creepy elements of the movie. There's one scene that involves Eun-joo (played by Yeom Jeong-ah) checking under the kitchen sink only to find a girl behind her as she moves her head. She never sees this girl though since the camera and Eun-joo pan the other way, the girl is gone. It's a quick element and one that has very little to do with the plot, but it works very well in the movie.

The music, when it shows up, is also very good. It doesn't really fit with the horror movie setting at times, but works in its own twisted and special way. I really liked it and thought that both the music and the long periods of silence (without any musical score at all) really added to the aesthetic of the movie overall.

So, I've talked about a lot of great elements of A Tale of Two Sisters, but did I like it? Yeah. I enjoyed it certainly, but not really as a horror film. To me it wasn't scary. It was way too predictable with the scares easy to see long before they happened. There were some decent horrific scenes, but they fell a little flat for me even thought they were decent. Most of the tension comes from the lead actresses, and although they are often very good at what they do, they are simply not scary at all to me. Again, I've never been scared of skinny, decent-looking women, and I don't think I ever will be. All of that being said, the stepmother of the film is pretty decent at being the antagonist here... well, kind of...

I don't want to spoil anything, so I'm keeping pretty quiet on the plot, but I think the director did a great job at keeping everything both consistent and malleable. There are multiple interpretations to the movie and its ending, and because of that I have a hard time classifying this movie into a specific genre. One thing that I will admit is that I grew lost int he movie's almost labyrinthine ending, to the point where I was pretty sure I had no idea what was going on anymore. I still had a decent handle on it, but I did have to reassure myself as to what the hell was going on. I found it not only very confusing, but also a bit too much information all at once at the very end.

I think the movie is overall very good. The acting and directing are both very solid. The story is very interesting to say the least. The ending and the revelations will have you guessing and wishing for more. It isn't very scary though, but does work very well as a tense psychological or ghost story. In general it works pretty well, and when I stopped watching it I was pretty content with the time I spent watching it. I will say that I like this movie a bit more as a bit of a ghost story, and if I have a way to choose to interpret it, I would have to say that having be at least partially a ghost story works better for me than having it all be psychological... but that's just me. Others may disagree. That's cool too. Anyway, yeah, it's a really good movie, and I really hope to see more like it soon. 

1 comment:

  1. Great review. I like this movie enough to own it on DVD but not enough to watch it every night. I think you really hit on the point that this isn't really horrific as much as it is atmospheric. Haven't reviewed this myself yet but I've been meaning to for a while now... maybe it's time. Keep up the good work!